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December 1995


INTRODUCTION As defined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (a joint FAO/WHO organisation involved in preparing food standards) and the EEC Commission, a 'food additive' means any substance not normally consumed as a food by itself and not normally used as a typical ingredient of food, whether or not it has nutritive value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological (including organoleptic) purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food results, or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in it or its by-products becoming a component of or otherwise affecting the characteristics of such foods. The term does not include contaminants or substances added to food for maintaining or improving nutritional qualities. Although food additives are in no way uniquely related to allergic or intolerance reactions, this criticism is often made. This factsheet seeks to address this issue and put it in context.


TYPES OF ADDITIVES Additives may be classified into three groups, according to the function they fulfil. Some additives fulfil more than one function. a) Additives affecting physical or physico-chemical characteristics: thickeners (including starches, gums, pectin) emulsifiers and stabilisers acidulants and buffers clouding/weighting agents (dispersing agents) raising agents anti-caking agents enzymes encapsulants glazing agents

E-mail : ioccc@caobisco.be

They coloured food with 1-methyl-2-carboxy-3. For example. gums.be . They used gum arabic (and other exudates) as thickeners and emulsifiers. sulphur dioxide (from burning sulphur). Saffron adds flavour in addition to colour. their number. pectin) emulsifiers and stabilisers acidulants and buffers clouding/weighting agents (dispersing agents) raising agents anti-browning agents sequestering agents curing and pickling agents humectants flavour enhancers colours gelling agents non-nutritive sweeteners flour improvers c) Additives affecting shelf-life: preservatives antioxidants anti-browning agents sequestering agents curing and pickling agents humectants 3. has increased.8. Most of the ancient additives are still in use. THE USE OF ADDITIVES Additives have been used from earliest times. Some of these additives were multifunctional. E-mail : ioccc@caobisco.Food Additives/2 b) Additives affecting sensory characteristics: thickeners (including starches. though not necessarily the total quantity.6. acetic acid (in the form of vinegar). sodium chloride and other metal halides and sulphates (in the form of sea-salt and brine). salt and vinegar have also a preservation function. Some common ingredients such as smoke. the ancients preserved food with vinylguaiacol and chemically related substituted phenols (in the form of smoke). pentahydroxyanthraquinone-7-glucoside (in the form of cochineal.5.7. but also change flavour. With time. mainly in pursuit of the original aims but additionally in the interest of safety. the crushed insect Coccus cacti) and crocetin digentiobiose ester (in the form of saffron).

for most additives. additives to be used in foodstuffs for infants. Definition of adverse reactions to food (allergy and intolerance) Adverse reactions from ingestion of food additives could be of two different types: true allergy or hypersensitivity. however the association is less clear. by a specific procedure 4. and the interpretation of results may not always be objective. ADDITIVES AND HEALTH 4. Difficulty in obtaining evidence of susceptibility is that data are mainly obtained from E-mail : ioccc@caobisco. psychological disturbances. According to the Working Group Report of the EEC. The most common manifestations of intolerance occur in the respiratory tract (particularly asthma and rhinitis) and the skin (usually urticaria or angiodema). (Scientific Committee for Food. particularly urticaria and respiratory reactions which can be provoked by several commonly used food colours. It is a reflection of the difficulties of accurate diagnosis that estimates of incidence of susceptibility are variable and tentative. which results from an immunological mechanism. and young children are evaluated in the EEC separately from other additives. However. Elimination diets and "blind" challenges require much time by clinician and patient. Clinical Symptoms A food additive ingested by anyone susceptible to it produces symptoms which cause variable degrees of discomfort. Migraine. preservatives and antioxidants. disorganization and inattention. Hyperactivity is mainly characterised by constant restlessness. and intolerance or idiosyncrasy.1. irritable bowel syndrome. 1981) there is no doubt about the existence of such reactions to individual food additives. Recent well-controlled scientific studies support a link between food additives and hyperactivity in only a small proportion of cases of hyperactivity in small children. Frequency of adverse reactions Assessing the frequency of allergy or intolerance to food additives. The Joint Report of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Nutrition Foundation 1984 regarding "Food Intolerance and Food Aversion" states: "The diversity of clinical manifestations means that there is no particular diagnostic sign. poses a considerable problem.Food Additives/3 4. urinary incontinence and arthralgia have been reported. no history of causing adverse reactions is known. The mechanisms of these reactions are not totally clear but it seems that virtually all the adverse reactions to food additives are manifestations of intolerance rather than allergy.be ." Furthermore. Report III/556/81.2. 4. where no immunological basis is apparent. The much-publicised claim by Feingold that additives induce hyperactivity in children has been refuted by a report of the American Council on Science and Health (ASCH) in 1982. The popular press has given prominence to claims that additives are responsible for hyperactivity in children.3.

and only for the most common manifestations.03 . Estimates therefore vary widely: between 0. The most common allergy among young children.Food Additives/4 highly selected groups of patients with skin or respiratory disorders. eggs. Among adults the commonest allergies are to cow's milk. 1981. to suggest a wide range of possible frequencies. A significant proportion of the world's population can only tolerate small amounts of milk. There is no food or ingredient which does not have an adverse effect on somebody and additives are a diverse group of substances with no form or function common to all. it is only possible. This lactase-deficiency reaches 90% of some ethnic groups but is less than 10% among European Caucasians.0. 4. if they have any influence on the condition. necessary to digest lactose.26%.5%. The regulatory mechanisms differ in detail from one area to another but all aim to ensure safety by defining what additives may be used. The assertion that some people are intolerant to all additives but to nothing else is both contrary to reason and without evidence.3 and 20%. of 0. A more recent study carried out on behalf of the British Government confirms that the occurrences of intolerance reactions to additives is low and in the general population is in the range of 0. lactase.03% to 0. fish and shellfish.01-0. 5. wheat and wheat products and soya. and for the same reasons. To estimate the incidence of such intolerance is as difficult as it is for additives. on the basis of present information.4. in what type of food and based on technological need. The Working Group Report of the EEC.15%".15% intolerance to additives should be viewed in the context of intolerance to other food and food ingredients. is to cow's milk protein. CONTROL OF ADDITIVES The use of additives is strictly regulated in all developed countries. estimated at between 0. Food additives. Examples are: E-mail : ioccc@caobisco. may exacerbate a pre-existing intolerance caused by an entirely different agent.be . Adverse Reactions in Context The estimate of 0. reports some estimates of intolerance incidence and from a variety of studies in several countries it draws the following conclusion: "Therefore when attempting to quantify the problem of adverse reactions to food additives.2 and 7. in what amount. This is because they lack the enzyme.

Regulation in the EEC Regulations are based on the toxicological evaluations of the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union.g. Additives which are not classified as GRAS under the old 1958 rules are controlled by regulations made under a 1958 Food Additive Amendment to the Food. All ingredients and additives in food are controlled by the Food Standards Code and the State Health Departments and are permitted only in foods where stated so in the code. an additive can be delisted under either the old or new systems of clearance. They rely on their own work.be . The presence of an additive in food must be stated on packaging after its category name. These regulations specify what toxicological criteria are necessary for additive clearance and include special requirements (the "Delaney Clause") for additives suspected of causing cancer. "E330" or "citric acid".1. This committee is composed of acknowledged experts from all the member countries. e. E-mail : ioccc@caobisco. Drug and Cosmetic Act. Regulation in Australia In Australia. the E. and it is then adopted into the Australian Food Standards Code for national use.U. 5. If there are sound grounds for concern. 5. No new additive is approved for use in food before its safety has been established by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH & MRC).2. by use of a key.Food Additives/5 5.3. adopted three specific directives regulating the use of all additives in foodstuffs. It also enables consumers. either by its "E" number or its scientific name. Those in common use before 1958 are classified as "GRAS" (General Regarded as Safe) and are excluded from the legal definition of additives. Regulation in the US Additives are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. and on guidance from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives and the World Health Organisation. Once permitted. the system of approval is slightly different but it embodies the same principles of control. an additive goes on the list of permitted additives and is given a number prefixed by the letter "E". to identify an additive whatever their language. An E number indicates that the additive is approved for use throughout the EEC. Recently.

J. Intolerance to food additives is less frequent than allergic reactions to certain foods or components of food (e. In: An FDA Consumer Special Report-Safety First: Protecting America's Food Supply. T. 10. They may only be used when the regulatory authorities are satisfied that they are both safe and necessary for their purpose.Food Additives/6 6. 69 564-568. URBANOWITZ.g. 9. Dis. 20pp. 21. (1993) Food and Food Additive Intolerance in Childhood. IOCCC POSITION Additives are used primarily to make food products safe. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. (1988) Reporting reactions to additives. IFST. (1994). (EUR 7823). 1993. FOLKENBERG. MD: Dept of Health and Human Services. 1987. 3.be . 7. A very small minority of people are intolerant to individual additives. 28th Symposium ('1991) Food Allergy and Food Intolerance: Nutritional Aspects and Developments ! KARGER INSTITUTE OF FOOD SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (1986). CARTER. Commission of the European Communities. E-mail : ioccc@caobisco. Commission of the European Communities Reports of the Scientific Committee for Food (Twelfth Series). Fisheries and Food. Rockville. CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION (1979) "Guide to the safe use of food additives". HHS Publication No (FDA) 88-2224. 5. COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (1980) "Food additives and the consumer". 8. M. M. Food Allergy and other Adverse Reactions to Food ILSI Europe Concise Monograph Series. Arch. GROUP OF EUROPEAN NUTRITIONISTS. convenient and attractive.the professional and scientific approach". Medical Aspects of food intolerance: a group of research papers sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians. Child. HEMSLEY. Blackwell Scientific Publications. 4. R. LESSOF.J. A listing of ingredients allows those who are intolerant to certain ingredients to avoid food which contains them. Brussels. "Food additives . N°4. London. 6. milk protein). Effects of a few food diet in attention disorders. 1981. Report of the Scientific Committee for food on the sensitivity of individuals to food components and food additives.M. DAVID. C.H. 2.

O. 14. 13. ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS OF LONDON (1984) "Food intolerance and food aversion . Journal of the Royal College of Physicians. (1987) The prevalence of reaction to food additives in a population survey. 21.E. POLLOCK. (1990) Effect of food colour on childhood behaviour. & WARNER. ÑÒ E-mail : ioccc@caobisco. 15. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London. Arch. PERKIN.Food Additives/7 11. E. J. 12. et al.be .a joint report of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Nutrition foundation". I. J. Child 65 74-77. MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE FISHERIES AND FOODS (1987) Royal College of Physicians report. 241-247. Aspen Publications. 18 N° 2. YOUNG. Dis. (1990) Food Allergies and Adverse Reactions.

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